Who is considered to be a winner in the Balkans by the EU?

Garret Tankosić-Kelly

On the 12th of October the European Commission flashed a green light at two of the possible six Balkan candidate countries hoping to become our newest EU neighbours.

Slovenia is already in, as part of the last round of candidate countries, and Croatia just got approval. This year’s ‘winners’ were Serbia and Montenegro, the former being recommended for Candidate Status – without a date for opening of negotiations – and the latter being recommended for a date to actually open the Negotiations; the penultimate step to Accession.

For Serbia the political heavy-lifting that was required to deliver wanted war criminals Mladić and Hadžić to the Hague Tribunal all but guaranteed a shoo in.

Never mind that in the intervening period there has been open conflict, leading to deaths, on the Kosovo border.

Or that Serbian politicians including the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have regularly been active in the Majority Serb part of Bosnia, in a manner which is at best unhelpful, if not actually destabilising for the very survival of the Bosnian state.

Or that in mid September President Boris Tadić said that a Gay Pride parade was being prohibited in Belgrade “to protect LGBT persons” -though one had been held and well protected last year, when Serbia was badly in need of some political gesture to burnish its ‘European values’ in the absence of the hotly-demanded arrests of Messrs Mladić and Hadžić.

Montenegro was, less than a year ago, given a check-list of seven criteria which had to be met, High on the agenda were rooting out high-level corruption; freedom of expression; and independence of the media.

The current Progress report for Montenegro almost glows about the advances that have been achieved, but surprisingly fails to mention a video tape which recently surfaced showing a state official from the national intelligence agency and the ex-Prime-Minister Milo Đukanović's head of security, fraternising at a wedding with some of the most notorious drug mafia figures from the region.

Or the continuing low-level state intimidation of NGO watchdogs, or the on going – and unsolved – attacks against journalists and media.

Perhaps most significantly of all the Progress report lauds the arrest of a Montenegrin Municipal Mayor and his colleagues for charges of “High Level” corruption, without making any reference to the fact that ‘every dog on the street’ down Montenegro way knows that this case had more to do with former Prime minister Đukanović neutralising an internal political rival than with a new-found thirst for tackling high-level corruption.

But the Commission is a funny old beast and the very title of its yearly review “Progress Report” has a quasi-communistic “Five-year plan” feel about it. Having lumbered themselves with a reporting mechanism that always looks on the bright side of life, this year’s report necessarily – in the current dire climate – needed to deliver some good news somewhere on the European radar to avoid “enlargement fatigue” if nothing else.

The problem for the EC bureaucrats was that amongst the ranks of those who might “Progress” we had Macedonia hampered by an almost certain Greek veto over a name dispute; Albania, whose opposition had the temerity to question election results and boycott Parliament; Bosnia, whose political system is in a terminal spiral as the EU has taken its eye off the ball and Kosovo…well that’s another story. This has left Serbia and Montenegro as the only possible candidates for progress.

No doubt realpolitik drives much of this and “stability” is the unspoken leitmotif of much of EU policy in the region. Pragmatism aside, these reports present two pressing issues, one for the any Government, journalist, MEP or researcher who would rely on them and the second for the other countries of the Balkans.

As currently written the Progress Report reflects political intention, as much as accurate review, and should be treated with due caution by anyone not completely familiar with the country in question. That is unless the EC adopts a more frank, dare we say Scandinavian, approach to the drafting of its reports.

But what about the perspective of the rest of the Countries in the region? What message is the Commission sending to them when Serbia – arguably the key architect of 90's ethnic cleansing in the region – and Montenegro – arguably one of the most corrupt countries in the region – are moving forward in the EU accession stakes. In doing this are they sending a signal that the winners, as opposed to losers, of the last twenty years of Balkan conflict, turn out to be the aggressors & cheats?

Garret Tankosić-Kelly lives in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and has worked in the region for 15 years.

Pitajte Istinomjer!